Sativa Science Club: Blazing an Educational Trail in the Cannabis Industry
Emma Chasen is the Director of Education at the Sativa Science Club. Since graduating from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in Medicinal Plant Research, she’s made it her mission to educate people about the scientific aspects of cannabis, empowering them to find the most sensible path to healing.
This past summer, she’d worked at Farma, developed courses for the Sativa Science Club, and worked as an industry consultant for cannabis organizations.
In addition to that, Emma works with physicians to educate them on how cannabis can fight cancer and what verbiage to use with their patients.
Despite her crazy schedule, Emma sat down with Viride and answered some questions about her incredible journey from plant research in a lab to her career in the cannabis industry.
Viride: You have a Biology degree from Brown University specializing in Medicinal Plant Research. What made you decide to get into the cannabis industry?
Emma Chasen: I was working at Farma, a popular Portland dispensary. I started in September 2015, right before Oregon went adult use. Because of my background I’d really wanted to find a job in research, especially in cannabis research. But I’d just moved to the area and needed a job, so I took the budtending gig at Farma.
V: What was it about Farma that drew you in?
EC: Farma takes a more scientific approach to the way they speak about cannabis and I felt really inspired. Plus, I loved the actual work of budtending. I loved connecting with patients and helping them reframe their connection with cannabis as well as helping them find products that really worked for them. In 2016, I was named Portland’s best budtender. And after budtending for only a few months I was promoted to General Manager of Farma and ran the shop throughout many regulatory transitions. After over a year in that position, I stepped down from my role as General Manager to carve out a new role in the company - Director of Education.
V: What made you decide to create the role of Director of Education?
EC: I saw the need for comprehensive training within the cannabis community. There was no training curriculum for budtenders and to me, that was inexcusable. Budtenders are the crucial link between maker and consumer. They simultaneously represent the grower’s/processor’s/maker’s products and interface with consumers who oftentimes have medical concerns. They drive the consumer market and sometimes even offer health advice. And yet, they receive no training for their job? Absurd. Because of my degree, I felt I could create a curriculum that incorporated easily digestible scientific information about cannabis as well as information on cannabis products, consumption methods, and how to connect with patients. And so I did.
V: How did you get involved with the Sativa Science Club:
EC: Mary, who is the founder and CEO of SSC, contacted Farma to set up a tour of the dispensary. Since I was the Director of Education at the time, I fielded that email. When we got to talking, we realized we had so many common goals. Mary wanted to create a hub of educational resources and unique opportunities for the cannabis community to connect. And I of course, wanted to educate the masses on cannabis science and client care. My science brain complimented her business savvy mind, so we started unofficially working together in June. We ran a budtender boot camp class series to workshop some courses and see if people were even interested. We had an outpouring of support from people in the industry and we ultimately decided to launch a certification program. I am responsible for developing this program, the Core Science Certification. It includes cannabis botany, cannabis compounds, the endocannabinoid receptor system, cannabis consumption methods and compassionate client care. At the end of September, after two years at Farma, I’d hit a ceiling and decided to leave the organization. Since I had this opportunity to work with SSC, I took it and came on board officially as the Director of Education at the beginning of October.
V: So, you’ve stopped working at Farma. Is your sole focus the Sativa Science Club?
EC: Sativa Science Club is a big part of my workload, however I’m also a cannabis industry consultant. In this role, I work with cannabis companies to help them develop educational marketing collateral and budtender awareness campaigns. I also help companies with organizational development; creating SOP’s and developing practices to make both their employees and retail partners happy.
V: As the Director of Education, are you teaching classes or focusing on content creation?
EC: I do both! I’ve spent most of my time at Sativa Science Club thus far creating content and workshopping that material in the classroom. I teach all of the classes in the Core Science Certification program. I also act as a mentor and adviser for any of the students in that certification program. Ultimately, I oversee the curriculum, make sure it’s up to date as new research comes out, teach the courses and advise the students going through it.
V: According to your website, enrollment has begun. Have classes already filled?
EC: Enrollment has begun and we are very excited about it! We are not full on campus yet. But enrollment numbers are looking good, especially considering this is the first program of its kind. And our first time launching it to the world! The program is also offered online as well, so many students choose that self-directed, self-paced way to take the program. Plus, it allows students across the globe to get certified.
V: After you graduated from Brown, you went to work in a lab out on the east coast. Can you talk about your reason for leaving that job?
EC: I graduated from Brown in 2014 with a degree in Biology specializing in Medicinal Plant Research. Brown is so incredible because it lets you study whatever you want - case in point I created a specialized track in the Biology department that let me study medicinal plant research. This decision was inspired by my freshman year seminar called Botanical Roots of Modern Medicine. When I entered college I thought I’d go the traditional pre-med, medical school route. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but after the freshman seminar, I petitioned the biology department to let me develop my own track called Ethnobotany and Medicinal Plant research and they let me do it, which was awesome. I did complete a pre-med track because I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to be a doctor or perhaps pursue a naturopathic doctorate.
V: Having decided med school might not be for you, what did you do after you graduated?
EC: After I graduated, I didn’t want to get right into another five-year program. My next year was spent working at the Brown University Oncology Research Group coordinating clinical oncology trials nationwide. I was excited to take the job because I thought I could learn more about cannabis’ purported cancer-fighting properties. There was even a professor who proposed a cannabis trial, but my supervisor at the time laughed him out of the office and we continued approving billion dollar pharmaceutical trials. I very quickly became disillusioned with the cancer industry and so I quit in May of 2015.
V: You were born and raised on the East Coast. What prompted you to pack up, leave everything behind and make your way across the country to Oregon?
EC: My degree is in Medicinal Plant Research, so I wanted more opportunity to work in the holistic wellness field. The East Coast doesn’t offer much in that arena. So I packed up my car and drove across the country to Portland in August of 2015. I convinced my best friend to move with me and we got a one-month vacation rental in Portland and decided that if after one month we didn’t have jobs, or we hated it, we could go home. In the first couple of weeks of living in Portland, I got that budtending job at Farma and the rest is history. I am so grateful that I decided to make the leap to move to Portland and get into the industry. It has been so rewarding, especially when compared to my time in oncology research.
V: Do you think there will be physical campuses in other states where recreational cannabis is legal?
EC: Definitely. The online program has been our way to reach a national audience and allow anyone who has an email account and a computer to take this program. This has made the Sativa Science Club more accessible and allowed more people to know about it. One of the goals for the next couple of years is to start chapters in other states so there can be courses for different cannabis communities throughout the United States.
V: Is the Sativa Science Club working on anything new and exciting in the near future?
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EC: We are looking at offering different services to help support businesses in a more intimate way. We are offering in house training where I teach an hour-long workshop on whatever they’d like. It could be anything from customer service to debunking the Indica/sativa myth or talking about CBD science. If they spring for that service, they get a big discount on the annual program or the core science certification. This is another way we can help support businesses in the quest for training and education in the cannabis community.